For its neighbours, Greater Victoria’s wastewater plant woes flow through the nose

Her windows were cracked to let in the summer night air, and as she lay in bed, Carol Witt was suddenly attacked by a strong stench. Disgusting odors waft in the wind, but Witter has given up on outdoor recreation countless times to avoid bad odors.

After Greater Victoria’s long-awaited sewage treatment plant started nearly two years ago, she is just one of residents in the West Bay communities of Vic West and Esquimalt who feel the project’s main promise has so far been broken.

When the Capital Region approved the nearly $775 million McLoughlin Point sewage treatment plant, it came with a written agreement that neighbors would not be affected by unacceptable amounts of odor.

The smell has residents and stakeholders questioning whether contractual requirements are being met with looming deadlines.

For its part, the CRD is still studying whether all the odors actually come from the treatment plant, which can treat 108 megaliters of wastewater per day from nine core communities. But several nearby residents who spoke to Black Press Media said they didn’t need research to know that their downtime was often ruined by the new stink that emerged after the plant started up.

Witt has lived near the West Bay Wharf for 36 years and represents the community on the Factory Liaison Committee. She said the new scent was real and she was “100%” sure it came after the factory went live in December 2020.

“There are other flavors in West Bay. There is seaweed in West Bay that everyone knows. It’s not that, it’s from the sewage treatment plant.”

The CRD Board of Directors will receive a report in the coming months outlining work and commitments to mitigate the odor issue before the contract with the plant builder ends. This was driven by a motion by Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, which was passed at the CRD board meeting in October.

She said the township did not hear about the smell every day.

“I want to remind you that odor control is one of the most important things for our community and for Vic West,” Desjardins said at the Core District Liquid Waste Management Committee meeting on October 12. “And we haven’t addressed those odor issues.”

The committee is discussing how to end the two-year performance period in mid-January, when final payments will be made to Harbour Resources Ltd. – a consortium of Aecom Canada and Graham Infrastructure contracted to build the treatment plant. Graham Infrastructure instructs Black Press Media Aecom Canada did not respond to a request for an interview, according to a statement provided by CRD.

CRD told Black Press Media that the contract was complex, but once the performance period was over, the contractor could receive a $5 million moratorium on plant completion and $800,000 in performance incentives under the project agreement.

“We really can’t understand why the CRD would be willing to hand over the remaining money and accept the handover when the lack of smell still exists,” said Rozlynne Mitchell, president of the West Bay Residents Association and another nearby resident.

The host community agreement with the town of Esquimalt stipulates that if the factory emits a noticeable odor outside the boundaries of its property, CRD will “use all reasonable efforts to investigate and remediate the source” to reduce the odor to an agreed level. It also includes requiring the CRD not to accept a treatment plant unless it employs odor reduction technology designed to make odor less noticeable on the plant site – a point that was reiterated in the motion for approval.

The local government said it was committed to limiting smells to properties. The town of Esquimalt also told Black Press Media that it was working closely with the CRD to ensure all commitments were met in accordance with the project agreement.

The McLoughlin facility is equipped with several odor treatment components, a state-of-the-art monitoring system and treatment tanks that are covered to capture and treat odorous air, which CRD says results in “the highest level of odor capture and treatment in the industry.”

During normal operation, closed tanks scrub, capture and monitor foul air, while backup equipment and generators reduce the likelihood of odors escaping the facility in the event of a system failure.

But the head of the Waste Management Board questioned why the CRD report confirmed the control systems were “fully functioning under normal operating conditions and to design specifications” as of September, but residents continued to comment on the smell.

The CRD told Black Press Media that staff needed regular access to the craft tank, so there was some odor when the system was open to the atmosphere.

Another point of concern is that the certifier said Harbor Resources had met the contractual requirements for summer and winter odour testing under the McLoughlin Point Wastewater Treatment Plant project agreement. The contract also includes standards for the removal of hydrogen sulphide emissions – which smell like rotten eggs – which CRD says have been met. Other odor-causing compounds not explicitly mentioned in the protocol may be produced, the staff added.

“The contractor has demonstrated through acceptance testing and independent certification that the plant has met the requirements of the project agreement,” CRD said.

At last month’s committee meeting, staff repeatedly said they did not believe the prominent odor issue was within the scope of the project agreement.

Dejardins said residents needed to know the CRD had their back and that it would address the issue, while Mitchell questioned who would be responsible for paying to stop the smell if the contract ended.

“It’s not a smell in the air, it’s a strong, pungent and clearly recognizable smell,” Mitchell said. “It just went on and it didn’t get better.”

Resident complaints have been coming in, but CRD staff said the nature of the complaints meant they could come from a cross-connection issue, where sewage from the Vic West home drains into the municipal storm drains which are dry in the summer.

“These wastes can build up and can cause noticeable odours in these areas,” CRD staff said.

However, residents who spoke to Black Press Media and Desjardins questioned this explanation, as the smell they were smelling only started circulating after the plant was launched.

“I know there are cross-connections, and I’m glad we found these, but the challenge I’m facing is those that were there before, so why do we think these are the causes of all the smells?” De Jardins asked. “I realize a lot has been done, but it’s not enough that residents can’t open their windows and enjoy their summer.”

“I think it’s frustrating to me why citizens are required to certify smell when it’s really up to the CRD to certify no smell,” Witter noted.

CRD is taking other steps to study and address the odor issue by the end of the year, including conducting odor tests at different times of the day; modifying a second odor control system to handle air from a tertiary treatment process; Chemical odors of different origins are fingerprinted to potentially associate them with odors in specific locations.

A report on the smell action will be due by 2023, as CRD staff say contract terms need to be resolved by the end of the year.

Witter said the contract with the community emphasized that the plant would not produce any noticeable odor, so the CRD needed to stick to its protocol.

“It’s just a bunch of shit and it stinks.”

McLoughlin Point Sewage Treatment Plant.  (Jack Romphf/News Staff)

CRD SewageEsquimaltGreater VictoriaVictoria

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